ST. ALBANS CITY — If she tends to her flowers as she does to her patients, Janet McCarthy’s gardens will soon be the Eden of Franklin County.
That’s especially true now that she will have more time to nurture them: The longtime Franklin County Home Health Agency Inc CEO announced last week that after a long career as one of the area’s premier nurses and leader of the company, she will retire from her position this June.
Just in time for the flowers.
“I’m really going to miss the people,” McCarthy said. “I’ll still be here, I’ll still be connected. This organization will always have a huge soft spot in my heart ... I’m leaving the best job a girl could ever have.”
An old photograph might show a young McCarthy in a mint green and white pinafore dress when she began her career in healthcare at the hospital in Rutland.
“I always knew I wanted to be an English teacher or a nurse,” McCarthy said. “I always knew I wanted to help people … I saw (nursing) as an opportunity to work in a number of different areas: acute care, pediatrics ... I thought that the opportunities were quite wide, and I knew I’d always have a job. It was practical and it was important.”
Before coming to the FCHHA in 1989, McCarthy worked at UVM Medical Center. But she was drawn to community health nursing, and to the work of the Visiting Nurse Association.
Fortunately, McCarthy said, FCHHA had a sterling reputation and a schedule that allowed her to raise a family at the same time.
But the health sciences would take an intimidating and drastic turn with the rapid evolution and implementation of medical technologies and the emergence of computerized health records, creating a new skill set that professionals would be required to learn — and quickly.
“Everything was pen and paper,” McCarthy recalled. “Back in the early days, we didn’t even wear gloves when giving injections. The AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s really started to change safety standards ... Now, it’s a culture of safety.”
Especially these days. McCarthy and her team of over 130 staff have been working tirelessly to tend to their patients — young and old — who are unable to leave their homes because of COVID-19 and preexisting conditions to seek the healthcare they need, whether it be an injection, a check-up or a talk with a friend.
“There’s a global uneasiness about this virus,” McCarthy said. “There’s a lot of fear. I’ve been very struck with how isolated people are. They have limited visitation from their loved ones ... It’s very touching.”
Her fondness and passion for home health care never wavered though, and throughout this year, as in years before, McCarthy and her dedicated staff took each challenge in stride, marking the hallways with blue painter’s tape to indicate which direction staff needed to walk in to keep a one-way traffic current, checing visitors’ temperatures, and being at the ready when the vaccines came.
Friday was that day. McCarthy was ready to interview with the Messenger the day the vaccines arrived for their patients, and she and her staff flew into action like angels in the afternoon, out the door and on their way to the ones who needed them most.
“When we got the COVID vaccine Friday, she said ‘It feels like I’m getting married!’” recalled Jennifer Aubin, executive administrative assistant at FCHHA. “She kept apologizing to people because she was just so happy to get the vaccine, to be able to get out and get it to the community.”
No matter the call, McCarthy is always willing to answer and serve, expecting nothing in return, and has well established her reputation for being exactly what every nurse is: above and beyond.
“She always puts 120% into her patients, staff, and the agency as a whole,” Aubin said. “Everyone is going to miss her here. Great nurse, great executive, great friend ... We’re sad, and we’re being selfish for wanting her to stay.”
McCarthy’s passion for nursing is equalled only by her love of family, especially her grandchildren. She will also be found perfecting her stroke on the golf course and caring for her beloved gardens.
But her stethoscope, McCarthy said, will remain ever by her side, should anyone call in need.
“Once a nurse, always a nurse,” McCarthy said. “I believe that.”